All right students, take out your textbooks and turn to page 42, “learning about mental health parity.”
Enough already with the moaning and groaning. This is an important topic.
Did you know, for example, that “the vast majority of Americans” know nothing about mental health parity? According to Dr. Gregory Fritz of Brown University, “They are neither ‘for’ nor ‘against’ it – they just don’t think about it.”
Dr. Fritz also says that mental health advocates have a “huge educational task” before them and that the first step is to “educate ourselves.”
So let’s get on with it! Let’s learn about mental health parity.
The word “parity” means “the state or condition of being equal, especially in status or pay.” When we talk about “mental health parity” we are highlighting efforts to treat mental health with the same dignity and importance as physical health.
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, for centuries people didn’t think mental health was equal to physical health. Even in the 20th Century, “It’s all in your head” and “get a grip” were responses given to men and women seeking help for mental illness. The stigma was so painful that most people feared to seek help.
It’s been a long, hard struggle to bring mental illness out of the shadows.
Less than twenty years ago the first Mental Health Parity Act was passed by the United States Congress. The MHPA required insurers to provide mental health benefits no lower than the annual and lifetime benefits they accorded to physical health.
It was a good first step, but essentially toothless. Like today, most patients didn’t know about the law. Doctors, hospitals and insurers found ways to get around it. The law itself didn’t actually mandate mental health coverage. Insurers could simply by-pass the Act by not offering it. The Act didn’t cover substance abuse treatment, because – even in 1996 – most Americans viewed substance abuse as a moral, not a physical, failure.
Then, in 2008, Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Once again, the MHPAEA did not mandate mental health coverage. And, once again, the MHPAEA was stymied, this time by regulatory agencies that delayed interpretive rulings until late 2013. However, for the first time, substance abuse disorders were included.
By 2013 the MHPAEA had already been superseded by passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Under the ACA, mental health is one of ten “Essential Health Benefits” (EHBs). The ACA mandates equal coverage for mental health, substance abuse disorders and eating disorders.
Yes, that’s right Jonah. Mental health parity is now the law of the land.
Is the fight over? Doctors report there are not enough psychologists, counselors and therapists to meet the increased need for mental health services. Along with the law, we need a greatly expanded mental health infrastructure. In addition, the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse disorders continues to keep patients from seeking treatment.
Even with these challenges, we’re at an historic crossroads in the history of mental health. Dr. Fritz says, “We are seeing the greatest increase in mental health treatment in a generation,” affecting some 62 million people.
Students, that’s all the time we have for this session on Mental Health Parity.
But before you go, remember this: you can help. Tell your friends, family, classmates, and the community that it is okay to seek medical help for mental illness, substance abuse disorders and eating disorders. Not only are these diseases curable in many cases, the law says they should be treated the same way doctors treat a broken arm, a skin rash or the flu.
Thanks for your attention. Class dismissed!!